This book, which tells the story of the Shelburne Line—a secret evacuation route that operated during World War II from the Breton coast of France—pays tribute to the audacity and heroism of the men and women of the French Resistance and Allied military personnel. The Shelburne Line was established at the end of 1943 by two French-Canadians, Lucien Dumais and Ray Labrosse, who worked as agents for a secret branch of MI-9, the British military intelligence agency responsible for providing assistance to Allied servicemen stranded behind enemy lines. Working with the French Resistance, Dumais and Labrosse arranged for groups of Allied airmen to be taken from "safe houses" in Paris by train to the town of Plouha, on the southeast coast of Brittany. Volunteers in Plouha would then hide the men in local houses until conditions were suitable for sailors from a British motor gunboat, the MGB 503, to collect them in rowboats from a secluded beach and transport them back to England. Eight successful evacuation operations were conducted on moonless nights between January and August of 1944.
A total of 121 Allied airmen and nine French agents were rescued from beneath the noses of German sentries on the cliffs above. Though the risk of betrayal remained ever present, the Shelburne Line was never infiltrated by the Gestapo.
The book contains personal stories of airmen and others who were caught up in the war in France. Some recount the experiences of American pilots whose bomber aircraft were damaged by flak or enemy fighters, obliging them to seek emergency landing fields or bail out with their crews over France, to find their way to safety. Two stories are about French youths, longtime friends of Réanne, who were too young to join the fight for their homeland but were marked for life—literally, in one case. These are intimate accounts of ordinary people that reinforce the fact that war touches everybody.